By Hiwot Ghiday and Raymond Kennedy
EAST BADEWACHO, SOUTHERN NATIONS, NATIONALITIES AND PEOPLE’S (SNNP) REGION, 13 February 2017 – Langano Primary School is located in the southern Ethiopian countryside around 17 km east of Shone town and has been open since . Until 2016, this bustling school of over 1,300 students had only one traditional latrine – shared by boys and girls alike.
Habtamu Pawlos is 13-years-old and currently studying in grade eight – the highest level offered by Langano School. He explains, “Previously there was only one latrine at our school and since the number of students are many it was difficult to access when needed.” He thanks the donor for providing a block of four new latrines for each gender, complete with a handwashing facility and says it has solved the problem.
Habtamu is being gracious – while he knows that four boys’ toilets is an improvement on what they had before – it is still not many to share between over 700 male students at the school.
When there are not enough toilets to go around – it is not surprising that children resort to unsanitary practices. Estimates are that only 42 per cent of primary schools in the SNNP region are free from open defecation.
The lack of toilets in Langano Primary School caused particular problems for girls.
“Most of the time, the boys go first and we have to go back to class before we get to use the toilet,” Tsehay Moges, a 12-year-old girl who recently entered grade five explains. “Privacy was also a problem.”
Tsehay admits that the lack of toilets made it difficult for her to attend class and concentrate on her studies. She says students sometimes became sick from infections due to lack of access to proper toilets.
A recent UNICEF study found that over a quarter of girls surveyed missed school during their periods. One key reason for this was the lack of private spaces to change their sanitary materials and clean properly. In many cases, girls told us that they would be teased or harassed by boys if they knew they were experiencing menses.
Private, separate toilets for girls will help Tsehay and her female classmates manage their periods with more dignity and will help reduce the number of girls absent from school.
The contrast between the new latrine blocks and the old unimproved latrine is stark.
Shared by both boys and girls, this latrine provided little privacy and was very dirty. The uncovered latrine hole attracted swarms of flies which buzzed around the user, contributing to the spread of diseases including trachoma, which can cause blindness. Additionally, there was also no handwashing facility for the children to use. Traditional latrines may also easily collapse when it rains as they are built out of mud and sticks. This is a danger to users and also exposes the community to open defecation until they are replaced.
Through generous funding from SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, UNICEF is supporting the regional government in the SNNP region to ensure that school children can use safe, improved latrines with handwashing stations. This project is supporting 10 schools in total, and new toilets have been installed in six of them thus far.
While the population of students and teachers at Langano Primary School are fortunate to have a better sanitary environment, there is still work to be done elsewhere in Ethiopia. Even though has been significant progress in reducing open defecation, far too many children are using unsafe and unsanitary latrines – particularly in rural areas. The current coverage of improved latrines is estimated to be less than per cent in rural areas of Ethiopia. There is a long way to go before all children in Ethiopia have proper access to safe and clean toilets at school.
 One WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) National Programme Draft Report 2016
 Menstrual Hygiene Management, Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Baseline Survey, 2017; Afar, Gambella, Oromia and SNNP regions of Ethiopia.
 Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey 2016